Story tellers usually start small. I did this with little sketches referred to as flash fictions, often under 500 words. I won money in contests and published some of these. I began receiving the response, ‘this intrigues me but I need to read more of the story.” So, I added detail and created more of a set up for the final twist. This moved my work into the 4000 to 5000 word short story category. Then, some stories burst the expected maximum of 7500 words. But, I still wasn’t ready to tackle the full length novel.
When reading a short novel entitled Shizuko’s Daughter by Kyoko Mori, I noted that each chapter resembled its own short story. These were not thrilling stories, but ones that gained my interest as I saw the secrets of a family uncovered. First there was the wife who committed suicide, then the daughter who silently mourned her, followed by the husband who was unsuccessful in hiding his mistress, and finally the mistress who grew miserable after becoming his new wife. In vain she attempted to eradicate every remnant of the prior wife. Of course, the first wife’s daughter still remained, and this child grew stronger, leaving her family and learning that she could risk loving someone as her mother did. I begin to sense that these secrets might be the same as people I knew in my own life.
The difficulty in moving to the novel could be spanned by a series of connected short stories. However, this could not be a collection of incongruent tales. The stories had to deal with the same characters, move in a chronological sequence, and achieve a goal–the resolution of the main problem.
When novels were published in periodicals a chapter at a time (think Dickens and Twain), the author had to know the eventual direction that the plot would take. Most of the time, the ending was already set up before the story was pitched to the magazine. However, after the major conflict appeared, successive chapters might weave in and out of different characters’ lives. These could be entertaining on a weekly basis. But, if a person binge read all of the periodicals, this meandering technique becomes frustrating, if not downright irritating.
So how does one transition from writing the arc of a short story to writing the arc of a novel ?
The readers need to see the protagonist’s normal world and the conflict arising early in the novel, just as in the short story. Then, the protagonist reacts to a rising crisis and makes a choice that reveals an important trait in the novel. This kind of character growth may never exist in the short story. Also, the crisis is not a single one in the novel; it is introduced as small problems that continue to grow with each chapter. As the novel progresses there are waves of relief and increased tension. The major problem expands until the protagonist hits a point of no return, followed by complications and a descent into the depths. The protagonist must arise from the bottom to reach the final goal. Also, the novel has a concluding chapter, or two, describing what happens after this.
With each of these steps determined, creating chapters in short story form to piece together a novel is still not easy. But stick with it; the journey for the main character is also a fulfilling one for the author.